June 28, 2011
Patrick O'Driscoll as Norton
Leif Fuller as Melvin
Lilly Maher as Wendy
Joey Stutz as Chuck
Lloyd Kaufman as Charlie Watkins
Melvin (Fuller) is a nerdy kid who gets picked on by punky bullies. Norton (O’Driscoll) is also a nerdy kid who gets picked on by punky bullies… the SAME punky bullies, in fact. In this guy’s case, his sister Wendy (Maher) is dating a jockish meathead named Chuck (Stutz). In Norton’s case, he’s friends with that same Wendy and harbors some form of crush on her… a crush that the exact same Chuck responds to with violent threats and attacks. One day, Melvin gets attacked by the punky bullies who, in their infinite wisdom, decide to murder him by leaving him locked in the trunk of a car parked on the train tracks because that will totally “look like an accident”. Fortunately for Melvin, they left him on the wrong track, and the train misses him. Unfortunately, they also gagged his mouth with duct tape causing him to still die by suffocation.
Meanwhile, years later, Norton is having strange lapses every night and waking up covered in blood. The people around him are dropping like flies, and he seems to always be in possession of some form of incriminating evidence. I imagine the whole “puking up blood every morning” and “gaping bite wound in leg” things aren’t too pleasant either. On top of all of this, Norton has begun to hallucinate, seeing Melvin everywhere he goes. What’s happening to Norton? Will he be able to stop it before it’s too late?
Melvin could not possibly be more transparently trying to be a Troma film if it had a character wearing an “I ‘heart’ the Monster Hero” shirt… oh wait, someone does. It also has a fantastic Lloyd Kaufman introduction and, in what is easily the movie’s greatest feature, a Lloyd Kaufman cameo as the killer in a fake movie called “Night of the Driller” which I now firmly want to see go feature-length. It does so many Tromatic things well too! It has very well-done over-the-top gore effects (particularly considering its rumored $1000 budget)! It has great, funny jokes! It even has that “nerd triumphs over oppressors” story that Troma basically was built on with The Toxic Avenger! I mean, I’m a huge Troma fan, I should love this!
But… it’s not quite Troma, is it? After all, Troma’s not releasing this, Chemical Burn is. It’s kind of clear to see why as you watch as well. For one thing, the sound in this film is one of the worst dubbing jobs I’ve ever seen in a film. It seems almost the entire film was redubbed over the footage we’re seeing so that it never quite matches what we’re seeing on screen. The viewer gets used to it, sure, but it still never feels quite right. I kinda wonder why the trailer’s dubbing works, but the movie’s doesn’t. Also, the music doesn’t quite work. The “score” pieces are okay. They’re very 80s, a little synth-esque, and really help capture that spirit that the director is clearly going for. The actual songs used, though, are just not that good, breaking the rhythm of the film.
The actors are decent, if a little stupid (particularly O’Driscoll, Maher, and Kaufman). However, there’s a problem with the cast unrelated to acting that is directly related to the movie’s biggest, most crippling flaw: its storytelling. For a very long time in the first half of this film, I was so deeply confused it was making me physically angry. That plot synopsis you just read is only something I understood AFTER seeing about half the movie. See, without really making it clear, the director decided that he wanted to tell two stories simultaneously: Melvin’s and Norton’s. The problem with doing that is the stories share identical characters with the exception of Melvin and Norton. Because those two are played by actors who look surprisingly similar, I found myself yelling “wait, why’d you call him Norton! What’s his name! Is it Melvin or Norton? WHAT’S GOING ON!” It doesn’t help that they’re both picked on by the exact same characters as I then found myself asking “is that guy playing two roles?”. It’s true that the movie explains what’s going on as it goes along, but the problem is that the flashbacks that make this clear are spaced too widely apart and never pointed out as such early on. A viewer should never have to ask “when did that character die” while watching a horror movie. Yes, I got the idea halfway in and very much enjoyed the rest of the film, but, as I’ve made clear in multiple other reviews, a great “half-movie” alone does not mean you’ve made a great “whole-movie”.
In the end, it’s clear that Melvin was made with passion, a love of indie filmmaking, and a love of Troma. I can respect that, and I do, VERY reluctantly, recommend it for a rental on the basis of the things it does right and the spirit it comes so close to capturing. However, I can’t, in good faith, completely forgive the dreadful sound and confusing storytelling style. I really do hope the director makes a full version of Night of the Driller, though… that fake movie/trailer shows just how much potential the director truly has.